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PROTESTS IN MAGGIE — Bikers stood along the sidewalk in front of Ryan’s Automotive Repair in Maggie Valley, where they shared some words with some of the protesters on July 18. A Saturday protest is expected to draw a far larger crowd, and worries health officials.

As of July 31, Haywood County had 268 known cases of COVID-19, with 178 of those cases occurring in July. This week alone, the number increased by 74.

The numbers include four COVID-related deaths in the county, the last two reported on July 28.

The growing case zone numbers make Haywood a red zone as defined by White House guidelines classifying cases on a per 100,000 basis.

The new cases brought the number of individuals being followed by the health department to 198, a number that changes daily as people exit quarantine or recover from COVID, said Patrick Johnson, public health director. In mid-July the “working number” was at 100.

Johnson said two events are scheduled this weekend that concern health officials. One is at BearWaters Brewing: Riverside in Canton and the other is a Communities for Change Black Lives Matter protest in Maggie Valley. Both are scheduled for Saturday.

The Canton event is offering live music to celebrate the release of a new beer. The business Facebook page states: “This party is going to be so huge, we are closing our Maggie Valley location for the day.”

Organizers of the Maggie Valley protest predict 200 will be participating in the Saturday march. During a similar event two weeks ago, 30 protesters and about 200 counter-protesters showed up. There are no estimates on how many will be present Saturday.

Maggie Valley Town Manager Nathan Clark expressed confidence an newly passed ordinance could keep the two groups separate, except for the sidewalk areas that abut private property.

Johnson said he would like guidance from the county’s policy council on how crowds are being treated in Haywood.

Some have been interpreting the rule limiting outdoor gatherings to 25 as applying to groups, not people outdoors who aren’t gathered in a single “group.”

State exemptions to the gathering limit were granted for church gatherings and protests.

Johnson said the numbers spiked in Haywood following an outbreak at Silver Bluff Village, and a cluster found at a Waynesville business.

The good news, said Dr. Mark Jaben, county medical director, is that new cases are connected to previous cases. The bad news is that once Haywood reaches more than 60 positive cases a week, it is bordering on the red zone. North Carolina is a hot spot, one where the guidance is to revert back to stay-at-home mode.

“Even if we went into lockdown today, it would be two to three weeks before we would see any effect on the curve,” Jaben said. “That gives an inkling of where we will be in September when school is open. We’re putting data together so we can think about that critically.”

Working post COVID

Jaben also discussed the new guidance on when individuals in quarantine or testing positive for COVID can return to work.

The initial strategy requiring individuals to have two negative tests before returning to work has been discarded, Jaben said. Now the CDC guidelines are symptom-based.

If a person is positive and has symptoms, the earliest they can return to work is 10 days after the symptoms first appeared and 24 hours without a fever or an improving fever. Even if an individual has lingering symptoms, Jaben said scientists have not been able to culture the live virus past day eight.

For a asymptomatic or quarantined individuals, the 14-day period starts from the last exposure to someone testing positive. However, should a person later develop symptoms, that starts the 10-day clock, he explained.

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